World Press Freedom Reaches Lowest Point In A Decade

As of April of this year, 152 Turkish journalists remained in prison. In May, the Egyptian government blocked access to 21 news websites. That same month, Chinese President Xi Jinping instituted new rules that require all news websites to be overseen by government-approved editorial staff.

This is the state of global press freedom in 2017, which, according to a recent study, has reached its lowest point in at least a decade.

The study, conducted by the freedom of expression campaign group Article 19 and political and social database V-Dem, measured freedom of expression in 172 countries between 2006 and 2016. According to The Guardian, the study measured levels of press freedom based on 32 political and social indicators including the level of “media bias and corruption, internet censorship, access to justice, harassment of journalists and equality for social classes and genders.”

According to the study, journalists have become increasingly threatened by government censorship and organized crime, as well as commercial pressures caused by the growth of the internet. This has lead to significant declines in freedom of speech in various countries, including Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela, Egypt, China and Bangladesh.

The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide also hit a record of 262 in 2017, according to the annual prison census conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). For the second consecutive year, more than half of the journalists imprisoned are in Turkey, China and Egypt.

Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the CPJ, believes that this global decline in press freedom is partly due to President Donald Trump’s attacks on “fake news” media.

“The United States has traditionally been a beacon of press freedom and defender of journalists but a barrage of anti-press rhetoric from President Trump undermines the role of the press in a democracy and potentially endangers journalists,” Mahoney said.

According to the study by Article 19 and V-Dem, Turkey has experienced the sharpest decline in press freedom in the past decade. More than 170 media organizations have been shut down since the failed coup in 2016 and 2,500 journalists have been laid off. The country also holds the title of the highest jailer of journalists worldwide in the CPJ’s prison census.

In Brazil, an economic recession and political instability have diminished protections for journalists in the country and ownership of media outlets continues to be concentrated among leading industrial and political families, leading the country to fall five places on the Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Similar conditions have affected Venezuela, where the country’s economic crisis has led many publications in danger of closure. Freedom House labels the country’s press freedom as “not free,” with various journalists imprisoned after covering demonstrations throughout the country.  

In addition to the blocking of news websites, Egypt’s government signed into law in 2016 a framework for media regulation, in which three different regulatory bodies now hold significant power over content and licensing. According to Freedom House, the law was part of an ongoing effort by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to quiet criticism of the government among media outlets.

The growth of news on the internet and social media in the past decade has also led some countries to adopt more stringent regulation of citizen access to the internet. For example, the new regulations by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) require that government-approved editorial staff oversee content for all “platforms that select or edit news and information.” The CAC also released other rules that require network providers and products that touch on national security issues to go through a new round of reviews by the government.

Bangladesh has also experienced significant declines in protections for journalists, prompting a status change from “partly free” to “not free” by Freedom House in 2016. Law enforcement in the country has been unsuccessful at preventing attacks against journalists, including the murders of four bloggers and a publisher by Islamic militants. In 2015, the government announced that news portals were required to register with the government and that the accreditation of journalists at those news outlets that were unregistered would be canceled.

Despite the significant declines in press freedom measured around the world, the Article 19 study also revealed improvements in some countries, including Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Additionally, 119 countries have introduced freedom of information laws.

While there have been some improvements in press freedom, it is evident that the ideal of a free press has declined globally in the past decade. With decreasing legal protections for journalists, vast imprisonment and increased censorship of the internet, journalists around the world are struggling to carry out their duties when faced with this global phenomenon.

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